Fixing MLS Schedule: Getting Restless

We're rounding into July, so it must be time for my annual kvetch about the onset of my personal ambivalence.

Writing as someone who enjoys soccer to a marriage-hobbling extent, I have to say it: I'm fucking bored. After the ever-giddy start to the season, but before the late-season jockeying (spazzing?) for playoff position, the summer doldrums hit Major League Soccer (MLS) every summer; the games slow down, in part due to oppressive heat in many venues, but also because there's no harm in phoning in a week or ten's (fifteen's?) performances. And we all know why: a (flatly brilliant*) sidebar on drew epperley's WVHooligan clocks the current state of the playoff race (look below the calendar on the right), and it tells that story.

Look at the number of points that separate the best of the "Last Five Out" from the conference leaders: subtract RSL's 9 points from FC Dallas' 25 and you get 16 points. Now take into account that, excepting Dallas' freak-show 15 games played, most teams have played 12 or 13, leaving 18 or 17 games to go. Some quick math shows this allows each of these teams the (entirely unrealistic) maximum of 54 or 51 points available for these teams. Yes, 54 is more than 16...over three times more, in fact.

Even as I count this year's playoff format - e.g. the top two teams from each conference plus the next best four - an improvement over the straight conference breakdown, the same reality prevails: such a generous playoff format means a team only needs one solid run, plus a smattering of wins along the way, to make the eight-team post-season. This creates an unfortunate situation. To throw a question out there, at what "week" (e.g. Week 20? Week 23?) do regular-season games matter again? No league should want this question asked of their on-field product, but...there it is. I don't know how this question can be avoided. If I'm getting bored - me, a cheap, dirty whore for all things MLS - I can't imagine what this pernicious summer stretch does to casual soccer fans, never mind non-soccer fans.

Fixing this doesn't require a radical solution; either allow fewer teams in the playoffs or shrink the number of regular season games...PLEASE. Just don't let this continue...or promise me that the league will reach 16 teams by 2010...and that you won't do something friggin' stupid like up the number of regular season games when it does.


If you want weird, though, bored as I am, I'm still racking my brains to figure what games I'm going to watch this weekend....

(* I count this as proof-positive that he pours more thought and energy into his site than I do. Why do I admit these things? I think it's because I believe people deserve to know what they're getting.)


Laurie said...

Oh, Jeff, how in the world can you be bored when we have the World Series of Football to get us through July?


The Manly Ferry said...

That's funny. I complained about the World Series of yesterday.

I'm getting to the point where I can't watch exhibitions...especially with how the season drags on. Throw the preseason into the mix and I'm really starting to lose it.